Jesse James

Justice, Reconciliation and Banana Beer

31 July 2014: So, it’s officially been two weeks since my last update, but to my defense this has been the busiest my time in Rwanda has been since getting here. Quick recap on last week: Soukey left to head back to the states and the head of the house Mickie stepped in. Now, she’s no replacement for this beaut…

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Flat AJ and Rwanda’s Most Eligible Bachelorette

but, she is pretty awesome. Mickie is the head of Younglife for the international students and she does a pretty good job of it. Writing this I realized I never introduced my roommates/the people who have been keeping me sane this whole trip (totally relevant to the events during this week too).

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I actually just paid a bunch of white people to take a picture with me

So Mickie is standing to my left and she is one of my roommates, along with Joanne (tiny Asian next to me). They are pretty great. The girl next to Mickie is named Torey, I really just met her but she defends Beyonce every chance she gets so she’s good in my books. The last girl is named Heidi WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO KNOW GRACE COUGHLIN FROM MY HOMETOWN. The weirdest coincidence. Now this is [almost] all the guys (all we’re missing is the stupendous Jon Porter). All the way on the right is Ryan, our token frat guy (he’s actually one of the nicest guys ever so it makes it even more hilarious). Working towards the left we have Charlie, hands down one of the funniest guys I’ve every met; Bryn, Charlie’s friend who decided to visit that week; and last, but certainly not least, Chris, the King of Selfies and Sass. Where are we you may be asking? Well Kigali put on it’s annual Trade Expo where business from all over the city come to display their goods for us amuzungu to buy. Luckily, there’s also a ton of dancing and food, and apparently this swing ride. Joanne was saying she wanted an adrenaline rush the night before, and what’s more of a rush then a rusted, old carnival ride? I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING.

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Dat resolution doe (this quality may be a sign it’s time for a new phone)

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Flying Selfie!

Funny story, this night was actually considered “Co-Ed Night,” because the night before was Guys/Girls Night, which solidified the fact that I love these people so much.

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Co-Ed night was a real FB event, made possible by Joanne

It all started with Torey bringing a bottle of wine to our house. The plan was just to relax and watch a movie, but Chris didn’t think I should be left in an environment with the much estrogen – so he convinced me to hop on a moto and meet the rest of the guys in Nyamirombo. We really didn’t have a plan but ended up at this tiny bar/restaurant where the co-owner bought us a round of beers (sick, right?). After we went to the bar above the gas station (it was just as sketchy as it sounds) then headed to Sundowners to end the night. OKAY, that should have caught you up until this week – so, now being in the present EVERYTHING HAS BEEN CRAZY BUSY AND I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I’M GOING TO FINISH ALL MY WORK IN ONE WEEK (because, if you haven’t realized, that’s all I have left here)! On Monday, Joanne and I went out east to film for the video I’m making for her company, Hope International. It was SO amazing to be back in the field and to be filming again – but one thing that I forgot is that, no matter how much you plan, you will never be prepared for your shoot. A half hour after we started filming it started down pouring, only in our area (also, let’s take note it’s supposed to be the dry season, meaning no rain). After 45 minutes the rain still hadn’t stopped, but as soon as we were about to call it quits the sky began clearing and the sun began shining. We got the rest of the shoot done and were back in Kigali by 6pm. As a stress reliever we went to Quiz Night at Sole Luna (which didn’t relieve much) and we came in 4th place!

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Nothing beats the way the hills look after a rainstorm

So here I am now, trying to get the video edited and ready for Tuesday’s Expo (this one is different from the first, but still just as busy) and wrapping work up at IJM. I promise to be a little more frequent with my last few days in Rwanda, but for now here’s a photo from me at the Rwandese dentist…

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Well, never would have guessed I would end up here


15 July 2014: I took the day off of work to eat these delicious chocolate and hazelnut biscuits [cookies], and sitting here realizing that I am getting behind in work makes me realize I made the right choice.

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It’s bigger than my nose, and I can’t stop eating them

As for updates, this past weekend may have been the most insane one I’ve had since coming to Rwanda. It all started when Joanne, my roommate and new best friend, and I went to the Independence Day party at the U.S. Embassy… BACKSTORY, Joanne and I tried hanging out the night before. We totally did chill, but when I say try I mean the amount of effort we put into it was too much. She invited me to bake cookies at ‘The Bird Cage,’ a cute name for the house some other ex-pats (American’s) live at. Why not go make new friends? Why not have a fun night baking and laughing? I’ll tell you, because when you try and take the newly fixed car and the mechanic forgets to fill up the gas tank, well then you’re just gonna have to break down in front of Parliament and have a ton of Rwandese people laugh at you. But who wouldn’t become best friends out of that situation? Especially when, after you spill gas all over yourself and eventually get some in the tank, the battery dies. So Joanne and I met the BC guys (bird cage if you’re not keeping up) at the Embassy and after getting served beer in a red solo cup (I felt so at home) one of the guys, Charlie, told us about the Peace Corps volunteers that invited them out to a bar. Why not go hang out with more Americans? Lucky for us, it was one of the guy’s birthday days, and you know what that means? Yup, white girl wasted volunteers. Our group joined them and they were passing a bottle of the cheapest gin you could find, with the intent of getting the birthday boy blackout drunk. We sat down and started conversing, one of the girls even knows the Sherratts from Gordon!

Some lessons:
  1. Kinyarwanda will sound more Italian than it already does when you use a ton of hand gestures.
  2. P.C. volunteers have the attention span of 30 seconds after a few drinks.

Eventually Joanne and the guys felt it was time to head out, but the night was so young so the P.C. volunteers wanted to go to Sun Downers and invited us. I didn’t have anything to do so I said yes and split from the roomie. To my defense, I was unaware Sun Downers was “where morality goes to die,” so there’s that. It actually wasn’t terrible. I paid 300 Rwf to get across the city and had a great time chatting about P.C. and what comes with it, like a drinking problem. After a few slices of pizza (made the night perfect) and dancing with my moto helmet (made the night awkward) I headed home. Moral of the story: don’t be afraid of spontaneous adventures, especially when everyone else in the group is plastered (makes for some great entertainment). Other than that I’ve just been working at IJM and starting The Locust Effect, a book about poverty’s underlying causes (watch out for a blog post (or two) on it). I’m gonna go back to eating some giant biscuits, until next time here’s a picture of me with my house dog Dagger ❤ Photo on 7-10-14 at 2.26 PM


6 July 2014: What’s up muzungus? So, it has officially been a week since the rest of the group left us behind. I don’t know the incubation period for malaria, but I think I’m doing okay for now, which is just the icing on the cake of a wonderful week. Just so you know, you are reading the blog of a real live IJM intern. Although this week was just training and orientation it was still a great week. We got to learn what each of the groups in the office does, and hopefully I’ll be spending a lot of time with the Legal team…details to come. Tomorrow I’m getting trained on the case file database, so I’ll finally get to start the meat of my job: reading through counseling and legal notes to put together stories of survivors that have come through IJM. Definitely not what I expected this summer to entail, but it’ll be an experience. Now, what’s better than cake? You may say nothing, BUT WHAT ABOUT A PIE-CAKEN (a pie inside of a cake).

It's it beautiful?

It’s it beautiful?

And what may be that pie you ask? Well you must not be a true friend if you don’t remember, so stop reading this blog and un-friend me on Facebook…I’m just kidding. I go to a Christian school so I forgive your ignorance 😉 Well, the pie in this beautiful masterpiece of dessert that is my summer is Neo, the new café that I got a job at. I have only spent a few hours there but I have learned so much about the coffee business. My boss, Che, is the coolest guy in the world. He makes sure I don’t get too overwhelmed by all the amazing things I’m learning, and also has encouraged me to get dreads (more to come on that later). There’s another worker named Peppertine, who is one of the best baristas in all of Rwanda (this may be a little biased, but whatever). She has taught me so many amazing things that will be showcased this coming year in Chester’s (Gordon’s student run coffee shop) so make sure to look out for those. I mentioned to her an idea of starting a café that I was developing the last week the group was here, she immediately pulled out a manual on starting a business. Turns out, she wants to do the same thing so we went through chapters on flavors, types of beverages and steaming milk. Tuesday, we’ll be going over espresso beans (I’m so excited).

The best Abroad-Mom and I post burning our cake

The best Abroad-Mom and I post burning our cake

On a more real note, I have approximately five more weeks here in the country. Noella (featured above after providing me with a wonderful lunch) asked me how I feel and I really don’t know. While I am sad that five weeks is so short I am still counting down the days. It’s an odd blend of wanderlust and homesickness; I love seeing and experiencing all these new places and people I’m meeting, but at the same time I miss all you guys back home. I know in a week or so I’ll be wondering why I even felt like this, knowing the days are passing by as I type, but for now, I don’t know. It’s definitely not a bad thing (and I’m not just saying that because I’m worried Carter is reading this and will get really upset, C-DAWG I AM LOVING THIS COUNTRY SO MUCH, DON’T WORRY). I’m actually happy that I am experiencing it. One thing we learned during our seminar here is that there is a right place for everyone. I have always thought Latin America is the place for me, so I think that is why I am hesitant to commit to Africa, but with each person I meet and day I experience I begin to wonder if I’m meant for somewhere different. Who knows? Lesson of the Week: even if you think you’ve found your niche don’t close yourself off from other possibilities. Mweramuche (have a good night) everyone. Oh, and also, #ThrowbackSunday to that night we tried washing our own clothes

Missing the boys  - Sam, Josh and Clint

Missing the boys – Sam, Josh and Clint


30 June 2014: Question of the Day: what the hell am I doing in Rwanda. Before coming here I knew nothing about the country, other than what I learned in Humanitarian Club junior year of high school – Go Falcons! After three weeks I can say that I speak about 0.12 percent of the language, which I don’t even think I pronounce the proper name correctly (Kityrwanda? According to autocorrect I am terribly wrong). And every time I see a cockroach I immediately leave the room. Is it just paranoia to be afraid of one crawling in my mouth at night? It’s a real fear of mine… Who am I – a 21-year-old umuzungu who will be getting a degree in communication arts? What am I doing in Africa, working with International Justice Mission, helping kids? At times I feel like I made a mistake, but then this voice tells me to shut up and stop worrying. It says: you’re gonna get lost, deal with it. You’re gonna get sick, take some medicine. You’re gonna get weird looks, it’s who you are. And what do I say to that?

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Bring it on typhoid

I have successfully bleached and cooked two meals on my own. I’ve filtered gallons of water. I even made it through my first day of work today (which wasn’t as bad as I was expecting). Does this mean I won’t have a breakdown while I’m here? Probably not. I did almost start a minor kitchen fire, but hey this trip would be too boring if I didn’t get a few curveballs. Moral of the story: when you’re alone in a new place it’s gonna be scary. So you can either hide until it’s over or you can take on what the day has to offer. Now excuse me, I have a roach to flush (I’m too afraid to kill it myself, so I’ll let the plumbing do it for me).


29 June 2014: So I may have missed a few days of blogging (aka my first three weeks here) but the blame goes to Carter Crockett for making our seminar TOO GOOD. All good things come to an end though, and so now it’s Pharvy, Souk and I on our own in this beautiful country – but before we get to that you’re probably wondering what’s been happening since we landed almost a month ago.

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The best cohort Gordon has ever put together – take that EP

Week 1: First things I noted: Africa is WAY different than Central America. It was rough getting our bearings at first, but with the help of our program assistant Noella we started getting the hang of things. We visited so many cool organizations from the Rwanda Development Board to Partners in Health. At the end of the week we headed out to the countryside where we swam in Lake Kivu (turns out you get great wifi service in the middle of it, just ask Sam Capo). Week 2: This week was a little more hectic trying to fit in so many more meetings, but in the end we talked to 30 different people doing amazing things in Rwanda. One day we visited the coffee fields and saw the process of bean to bag, then later that week we visited HeHe, a crazy cool software company that started Rwanda’s first navigating app.

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Seeds of the coffee cherries drying in the sun – needless to say I geeked out over seeing this process

At the end of the week we took a two day vacation to the southern part of the country to visit Nyungwe. Not only did we get to scale some canopies but we got to have some amazing ginger tea at the country’s largest tea manufacturer.

Fields of the Nyungwe Tea Farm

Fields of the Nyungwe Tea Farm

Week 3: So rather than visiting organizations the point of our last week was to engage with those we had already met. Some of the cohort got to go back to RDB to shadow interns while Pharvy created her own emersion at the country’s only PR firm. And me, well my internship wasn’t ready for me yet so I got to wanted the streets of Kigali and go HAM on our final group presentation (which may lead to Jesse opening a cafe in Rwanda? Stay tuned…). Although, I did end up getting a position at a local coffee shop for my time here, so that’ll be interesting. It’s safe to say I’m starting to feel comfortable here, especially since Jamie, Natalie and I walked from the restaurant to our hotel (a 30 minute trek that took us 20, mostly because we scaled a giant hill).

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Walking from Kimihurura to Kiovu, aka one giant hill to the next

After a quick safari in Akigara we spent the last night at the hotel, scrambling to get everything together. Of course, it wouldn’t be right to have everything go well, so after realizing our bus was 45 minutes late to bring us to our presentations Carter had me take a mototaxi over to get set up, or so we planned. My driver took me to the other side of the city, then him and I worked together to find the obscure restaurant Carter picked for us, thanks C-Dawg. But after some great presentations Pharvy, Souk and I had to say goodbye to our small family as they rushed to get to their plane (we got to the airport about an hour before departure, but I mean Africa, am I right?). Week 4, The Present: After our first night at our new house the reality has set in that we’re here for the long haul. Five more weeks of mototaxis, brochette and butchering Kinyarwanda. I start at IJM on Tuesday and Neo sometime this week, so more to come as those stories develop. For now I’m fighting off cockroaches and dealing with separation anxiety from the group, but it’s not so bad since I have this selfie with Carter –

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I can die happy now

Hashize ni cyashize, sinkumenya hazaza, ariko mfite kubona azagenda ate. (Yesterday is the past, I don’t know tomorrow, but I have to see how it will go.)


Photo on 6-8-14 at 10.44 AM #2 8 June 2014: First, can we note, I looked up Rwandan proverbs to quote in this and the first one I found was:

A girl only gets pregnant once. – Anonymous

So there’s that. Anyways, three months ago I was sitting on my living room floor, eating Hint of Lime chips (as per usual), when I found an application for a three week trip to Rwanda. The trip focused on the businesses and organizations that have sprouted since the genocide, slash it was Africa. So, I sent my application in and a couple days later Carter, the trip advisor, notified me that I was wait listed. Great. A week or so later I was looking at summer internships in Boston when I got an e-mail from Carter. Now, I was already having some issues with Financial Services so even when he said he wanted to move me to accepted I wasn’t about it, until he dropped the fact he got me an internship with International Justice Mission…excuse me? For those of you who don’t know, IJM is a human rights organization that combat issues of human injustices including sex trafficking, forced labour slavery and illegal detainment. (Here’s a link to their site, go check them out: http://www.ijm.org) Flash forward to the the present day: currently I am sitting in Drew, counting down until 1:30 when I head to the airport. <Insert quality transition here…> For a while I was so nervous (seriously, I almost threw up a couple times because of it), but everyone stayed so positive and encouraged me to keep going for it, and now I am spending the rest of the summer on another continent. I can’t thank y’all, but super special shoutout to everyone who was so gracious and donated money to my Go Fund Me account (which I will leave open while I am in Rwanda, share with friends and family – http://www.gofundme.com/86f0wo) . Honestly, I would not be even going on this trip without the support. Now, you may be wondering: why does Jesse get to experience this beautiful country and I don’t get to see any part of it? That’s just not fair…WELL, have no fear friends. This blog will be your window to the Land of a Thousand Hills. I will post whenever I can/whenever I have anything interesting to report back on.While I have absolutely no idea what the next few months will look like, here’s a preview of some things to come:

  • Previews on organizations present in Rwanda
  • Adventures in the city of Kigali
  • Experiencing FIFA 2014 in a country that will actually care
  • Pharvy and Jesse tearing it up
  • Trying to avoid malaria and rabies
  • An Independence Day party at the U.S. Embassy
  • And much, much more…

Excited? I am too, but until then, I leave you with this real, Rwandan proverb:

When in someone else’s home leave your defects at the door.

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One thought on “Justice, Reconciliation and Banana Beer

  1. Robin Nelson on said:

    Love you, Jesse and know you are in our thoughts and prayers. Experience it ALL!

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